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GCSE Eng - Night of the Scorpian

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    Nissim Ezekiel was born in India in 1924 to an Indian Jewish family. He studied in Bombay and in London. Over the past fifty years, he has written eight collections of poetry. He won the Akademi Award for a volume called Latter Day Psalms. He is also a renowned playwright, art critic, lecturer and editor. He is credited with beginning the modernist movement in India and has become one of India's best known poets. Background information: I remember the night my mother was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours of steady rain had driven him to crawl beneath a sack of rice. Parting with his poison - flash of diabolic tail in the dark room - he risked the rain again. The peasants came like swarms of flies and buzzed the name of God a hundred times to paralyse the Evil One. With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows on the mud-baked walls they searched for him: he was not found. Night of the Scorpion They clicked their tongues. With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said. May he sit still, they said. May the sins of your previous birth be burned away tonight, they said. May your suffering decrease the misfortunes of your next birth, they said. May the sum of all evil balanced in this unreal world against the sum of good become diminished by your pain. trying every curse and blessing, powder, mixture, herb and hybrid. He even poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toe and put a match to it. I watched the flame feeding on my mother. I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation. After twenty hours it lost its sting. My mother only said Thank God the scorpion picked on me And spared my children. Night of the Scorpion May the poison purify your flesh of desire, and your spirit of ambition, they said, and they sat around on the floor with my mother in the centre, the peace of understanding on each face. More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, more insects, and the endless rain. My mother twisted through and through, groaning on a mat. My father, sceptic, rationalist, The poem is about the night when a woman (the poet's mother) in a poor village in India is stung by a scorpion. Concerned neighbours pour into her hut to offer advice and help. All sorts of cures are tried by the neighbours, her husband and the local holy man, but time proves to be the best healer - 'After twenty hours / it lost its sting.' After her ordeal, the mother is merely thankful that the scorpion stung her and not the children What is the poem about? The poem is written in free verse with varying line lengths and no rhyme. The first part is long and full of activity - the scorpion's bite and the reaction of the villagers. The second part, the mother's reaction, is just three lines long. Sometimes you will see this poem printed as if it were prose. What differences does it make when it is set out in lines? What, if anything, do the lines and the breaks between them contribute? Structure Language The poet uses language to convey his ideas. The title is in some ways deceptive. It leads us to believe we are in for a frightening and dramatic tale about a scorpion.However, the poem is not about the scorpion, but the reactions of different people to its sting. The poem starts off in the first person - Ezekiel describes an event that really happened. However, he does not give his own feelings or reactions: we realise he is merely the narrator. Most of the poem is in the third person, as Ezekiel reports on what other people do and say. Night of the Scorpion I remember the night my mother was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours of steady rain had driven him to crawl beneath a sack of rice. Parting with his poison - flash of diabolic tail in the dark room - he risked the rain again. Ezekiel does not show the scorpion as a villain: it was driven to shelter 'beneath a sack of rice' (line 4) after ten hours of rain. It probably stung the poet's mother instinctively as a warning to her when she approached its hiding place, rather than harming her on purpose; and having delivered the sting, scared of the people indoors, ' he risked the rain again' (line 7 Language Language However, the villagers are more superstitious and link the scorpion to 'the Evil One' (line 10). They claim that the poison will help in many ways, for example by burning away the sins of the woman's former life - 'her previous birth' (line 19) and ease her life after this one - 'her next birth' (line 22). Perhaps this is their way of making sense of the event: if 'good' comes out of it, it is easier to bear. The peasants came like swarms of flies and buzzed the name of God a hundred times to paralyse the Evil One. With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows on the mud-baked walls they searched for him: he was not found. They clicked their tongues. With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said. May he sit still, they said. May the sins of your previous birth be burned away tonight, they said. May your suffering decrease the misfortunes of your next birth, they said. The events of the night are described in rich detail - we know about the mud hut and the candles and lanterns, yet we know little about the individual neighbours: Ezekiel lumps them together as they. What effect does this have? May the sum of all evil balanced in this unreal world against the sum of good become diminished by your pain. May the poison purify your flesh of desire, and your spirit of ambition, they said, and they sat around on the floor with my mother in the centre, the peace of understanding on each face. More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, more insects, and the endless rain. My mother twisted through and through, groaning on a mat. NEXT. The final three lines are important. We hear Ezekiel's mother's exact words, her simple speech contrasting to the gabbling neighbours. She doesn't show any bitterness over her ordeal: she is just grateful that it was she who was hurt rather than her children. (Children are more vulnerable to scorpion bites than adults.) She thanks God (line 47). Ezekiel's father is usually a sceptic and a rationalist - in other words, he does not believe in superstitions and is not religious. Yet when his wife is suffering, he tries 'every curse and blessing' (line 37) to help her. The final, simple 'After twenty hours / it lost its sting' (lines 44-5) is a put down: nothing worked, after all. My father, sceptic, rationalist, trying every curse and blessing, powder, mixture, herb and hybrid. He even poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toe and put a match to it. I watched the flame feeding on my mother. I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation. After twenty hours it lost its sting. My mother only said Thank God the scorpion picked on me And spared my children. There is a contrast between the neighbours' 'peace of understanding' (line 31) and the mother who 'twisted ... groaning on a mat' (line 35). It is ironic that they are at peace because of her discomfort. Imagery Ezekiel uses a simile, comparing the villagers to 'swarms of flies' (line 8). It is striking that he uses an insect image to describe the people's reaction to an invertebrate's sting. He develops the simile in the following line: 'they buzzed the name of God' (line 9). What does the fly simile suggest about Ezekiel's attitude to the neighbours? The neighbours' candles and lanterns throw 'giant scorpion shadows' on the walls (line 13). We know that the scorpion has already fled, so are these images of the people themselves? (A scorpion has eight legs, so the shadow of a small group of people standing together could look like a scorpion.) If so, what does this show about Ezekiel's attitude to the neighbours? There is a lot of repetition so that we 'hear' the villagers' prayers and incantations. Ezekiel uses direct speech, May... , to dramatise the scene and the echoed 'they said' is like a chorus. Sound There is alliteration throughout the poem which helps to link or emphasise ideas: the scorpion is seen 'Parting with his poison' (line 5), Ezekiel's father tries 'herb and hybrid' (line 38), Ezekiel sees 'flame feeding' (line 41) on his mother. Underline other examples of alliteration. Can you explain their effect? Reverently, to show Ezekiel's pride in his mother? Tone Should this poem be read: In a factual tone, like a report, narrating the events of the night? In a mystic tone, to contrast the different calls to gods and God throughout the poem? The ideas in this poem concern our difficult feelings toward aspects of the natural world which seem to threaten us - the frightened insect becomes the Evil One! - and the complex ways in which individuals and communities respond when disaster strikes one of their number Ideas